The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: X- Abel Xavier

A look back at the life and career one of the modern era's most prominent footballing mercenaries.

The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: X- Abel Xavier
Abel Xavier during his time at Liverpool | Photo: Getty Images/Shaun Botterill

Football has changed in many ways since its thrust into the modern era; one of those major changes has been the appearances of players on the pitch moving on from the gentleman look into any wacky creation you could imagine.

One of the most recognisable players of the new millennium has been Abel Xavier, with the Portuguese international’s bleach blonde hairdo and matching goatee making him difficult to ignore.

The defender’s look was just as exotic as his career with Xavier hot-footing his way through a number of countries, becoming one of the new millennium’s true ‘journeymen’.

Starting off

Xavier was born in Mozambique in 1972, before making the move to Europe and settling in Portugal, his long football career beginning back in 1990 in the top division of the Portuguese division with Estrela da Amadora.

A young Xavier would make 85 appearances before he secured a move to the capital with Benfica; he would make an instant impact, winning the league title in 1994, but it wouldn't be long before the jet-setting that Xavier would be known for began to kick into gear.

Xavier upped sticks from his adopted homeland after two years with the Águias with Italy becoming his next destination. Bari was the club but he would only make eight appearances in his one season before making the move back closer to home with Real Oviedo.

It would be another two seasons for the full-back before he would be snatched up by Sir Bobby Robson at PSV Eindhoven, however his Dutch escapades would only last a year but his English connection would stretch beyond Robson and would prove a home for more than two seasons for Xavier.

Making it on Merseyside

Merseyside would be his nest for the next few years, beginning on the blue side of Stanley Park, as Everton swooped in for what seemed a bargain price of £1.5million. However, like many clubs before it wouldn't last long as he only managed 49 appearances at Goodison Park.

Many say that rivalries work different in England in terms of intensity. Not many cross the line between two rivals but Xavier was not a regular kind of man as he became only the fourth and so-far last player to ‘cross the park’ when he made the £800,000 move back in January 2002.

Xavier was brought to Liverpool by Gérard Houllier to bolster his squad in the absence of Markus Babbel through illness and made an instant impact with a debut goal against Ipswich Town, he even turned up on the biggest stage with a goal against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League as he helped Liverpool to a second-placed finish.

He would start the first four games of the following season before an argument with Houllier saw him frozen out completely, and he would only make one more appearance against Ipswich, the team that started it all.

Xavier was quickly shipped off again this time Turkey was the destination as he joined Galatasaray in the January transfer window, the option for a permanent move was laid on the table but following his 11 appearances they decided to opt for something more permanent.

Coming back to England

The Portuguese international was left out to dry over the next two seasons where he played eight games for both Hannover and Roma, but in the summer of 2006 he was left without a club until a call came from Teesside.

Xavier made the move to the Riverside Stadium but his short stint with Middlesbrough was shrouded in controversy; following Boro’s UEFA Cup clash with Xanthi FC the defender was administered and failed a drug test and was banned for 18 months for the use of Dianabol.

The ban was shortened to 12 months but his forced absence did mean he missed the club’s astonishing journey to the UEFA Cup Final where they were thwarted by Sevilla in Eindhoven, but Xavier would return to training in the summer of 2006 before making his return to the first-team in November.

Boro showed faith in the defender by offering him a contract for the remainder of the 2006/07 campaign and repaid the faith with his first goal against Bolton Wanderers in the new year, but Xavier went on to pastures new as he jumped on the new wave of the MLS revolution.

Moving Stateside

The United States of America got ‘soccer fever’ in 2007 when global megastar David Beckham made the move to the sunny West Coast with LA Galaxy, and Beckham would soon be joined by a man of similar flamboyant fashion.

Xavier moved to the StubHub Center but like many clubs before it his tenure there would be short, as he jumped ship in 2008 and burnt his bridges on the way out, criticising both manager Ruud Gullit and the league itself before closing the book on his wild career in 2009 at the age of 38.

Making the move to the dugout 

Xavier’s wild life seemed to fall off the radar for some years following his 2009 retirement, but four years later he would reemerge into the public sphere this time in the dugout as he began his managerial career down in the lower leagues of the Portuguese system.

He made the big jump to international football following that as he went full circle by taking charge of home nation Mozambique in an attempt to win qualification for the African Cup of Nations. He failed in doing so but still remains with the side in hope of shaping his nation’s future.

His international career

International football was the only outlet where Xavier would have to show some loyalty, his career with the Portugal a short one in terms of caps having garnered just 20 but proving just as dramatic as Xavier's domestic life. 

Having chosen to represent Portugal over birthplace Mozambique his international began with a bang having finished third in the Under-16 World Championship, the defender had a long run in the U21s before making the step up to the senior side in 1993. 

His first few appearances came in the country's unsuccessful 1994 Word Cup qualifying campaign, and their failure to make the trip to the United States affected Xavier's senior involvement as he wouldn't play again until 1998. 

Xavier's peak came at the turn of the millennium and that showed in his form going into and during Euro 2000 where he arguably played his best football, he was crucial in Portugal's passage into the semi-finals where they took on eventual winners France. 

He was whiskers away from becoming the nation's hero when his sure goal was blocked by Fabien Barthez, but the defender ended up being the villain as he turned away Sylvain Wiltord's effort away with his hands in the dying seconds of golden extra-time with Zinedine Zidane putting away the penalty. 

The punishment didn't stop there as Xavier was initially banned for nine months for his protest against referee Günter Benkö's penalty decision which was reduced to six, Xavier managed to make the cut for the World Cup in South Korea & Japan in 2002 but his 20th and final cap would come against the South Korean hosts. 

Guns for hire have become a common feature of the modern game where loyalty has become a rarity; Xavier was one of those who bucked the loyalty trend having his foot in many corners of the globe.

Some fans take loyalty very seriously but many will also see Xavier as something a maverick, who will be remembered not for his appearances, but his initiative to see the world in the small window that professional players are blessed with. 

-

This article is part of a regular series, 'The A-Z of forgotten football heroes'. Check out the last entry, on a Manchester City goalkeeper before the age of Hart and Ederson, here.